tampabay.com

New Lightning owners take risks in careers, sports

By SCOTT BARANCIK, Times Staff Writer
Published August 8, 2007


On paper, the three men vying to acquire the Tampa Bay Lightning are a Dream Team.

Doug MacLean is The Sportsman, a longtime professional hockey executive who took the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup in his first year as manager and is a born front man. Oren Koules is The Entertainer, a Hollywood producer who developed the popular Saw horror movies and knows how to dazzle a crowd. Jeff Sherrin is The Businessman, a Coral Springs real estate developer who was trained as an accountant and shuns the limelight.

Among the similarities: All three of the majority partners of Absolute Hockey Enterprises are former athletes and each has carved out a successful career, in part by taking some unplanned risks.

Koules, 46, grew up with hockey dreams. As a young man he played several years of minor-league hockey, including for his hometown Chicago Blackhawks, but didn't make the pros. Afterward, he worked eight years as a commodities trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange before pursuing a new dream in Hollywood.

The youthful-looking Koules wasted little time making his mark. In the decade since he arrived, Koules' Evolution Entertainment has produced two dozen films, several television series and built a talent-management arm that handles the careers of roughly 150 Hollywood players. His producer credits range from the credible Denzel Washington's John Q to the base (Dumb and Dumberer) to the small screen (Charlie Sheen's television series Two and a Half Men).

Koules is best known -- and most envied -- for the Saw trilogy, a low-budget slasher series that has grossed $400-million and will soon be joined by Saw IV. Instead of seeking outside financing and selling the original Saw movie prior to release, Koules and his two partners ponied up the $1.2-million themselves, found a distributor and kept most the profits from the $100-million the film grossed. "We make more money than anyone you'll ever interview," he bragged to the Los Angeles Times in 2005.

It's a formula that Evolution has repeated since with their horror-genre films and will continue to. Among the 10 films Koules has in development or production are the horror-musical Repo! The Genetic Opera! and Tortured, about a couple who seek revenge against the pedophile who kidnapped, tortured and murdered their only child.

Koules received similar attention for another gruesome event: his recent divorce from high-powered Hollywood agent Risa Shapiro. Shapiro and her attorneys accused Koules of hiding financial losses associated with their Bighorns hockey team, claimed that his $6.25-million Beverly Hills bachelor pad and other assets were purchased with joint funds and argued that she was entitled to a share of the profits from all of the Saw movies, not just the first. The couple reached a confidential settlement earlier this year.

MacLean, 53, has received his own share of ink.

A native of Canada, he has spent much of his adult life in professional hockey. MacLean took the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup in his first year as an NHL head coach but was replaced two years later. In 2002 he joined the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he served as president, general manager and, briefly, as head coach until the team, perennially one of the worst in the NHL, fired him in April.

The third partner and self-described "boring guy in the group" is Sherrin. The 51-year-old Miami native went to Ohio University on a tennis scholarship and began his career as an accountant. At age 22, he said in an interview Tuesday, he and several friends began acquiring small parcels of undeveloped farmland near Orlando. Years later, he helped develop a highly successful retail complex, Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores, on the land and, more recently, an adjacent 500-unit condo-resort that is set to grow to 1,800. Sherrin also was majority owner and CEO of an Internet travel company whose best-known domain name was Orlando.com. He sold it roughly five years ago to IAC/InterActiveCorp, the parent company of St. Petersburg-based Home Shopping Network.

Though MacLean and Sherrin only met Koules recently -- Sherrin acknowledged he wasn't sure how to pronounce his surname -- the two neighbors are longtime friends and business partners. They own adjacent vacation cottages on Canada's Prince Edward Sound and have jointly acquired land that they plan to develop commercially. Sherrin also served as a longtime consultant to the Columbus hockey team during MacLean's tenure there.

The three partners combined don't come close to the net worth of current Lightning owner Bill Davidson, a Detroit billionaire. But Sherrin said the three men and their minority partners will foot most of the bill for the Lightning's purchase, with a small portion contributed by the Societe Generale investment bank.

"I'm going to contribute any way I can from a business point of view," Sherrin said.

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed this report, which included information from Times wires. Scott Barancik can be reached at barancik@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.